Reflection for the 5th Sunday of Lent (Cycle C)
As we enter into the celebration of the Paschal mystery, it is fitting that we understand the newness that God brings through his liberational nature.
The Spirit frees us from the old ways that constrains us and compels us to think only for ourselves, and to behave in an inconsiderate and irresponsible manner towards others, either causing alienation, anxiety and despair; or unrest, rebellion and violence.
Through its own initiative, it lovingly ushers in through the example of Christ, the newness of thinking and behaving in terms of mutual responsibility and simple sharing, fulfilling the divine promise that “no one will be left behind.”
Therefore, according to Isaiah, God exhorts us not to “dwell on the past, or remember the things of old … I am doing a new thing.” Indeed, the God who took it upon himself to open up new pathways for us who are unable to extricate ourselves from the bondage of evil, is to be honored and praised!
So, are we helping him in the realization of his kingdom, or are we frustrating him with our persistent disobedience and our stubborn ways of selfishness? Are we helping him in his mission of mercy, or are we frustrating him with our silent social indifference and with our misplaced spiritual pride?
Who are we in the Gospel tale of the repentant woman about to be stoned to death: Are we ‘part of the solution’ or are we ‘part of the problem’?
We ought to pray as Paul prays, “May I be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own, that comes from the law, but with the righteousness that God gives, to those who believe.”
“May I be made new, not because I can make myself new, not because I deserve to be made new, but even if I am undeserving of it, I am made new by his Spirit.”
And we ought to commit what Paul commits, “May I know him, and experience the power of his resurrection, and share in his sufferings, and become like him, in his death, and attain, through this, God willing, the resurrection from the dead!”
He calls on all of us to persevere and not to “dwell on the past”, to “press on till I conquer Christ Jesus, as I have already been conquered by him.” Bearing witness with his own life, he says, “… forgetting what is behind me, I race forward, and run toward the goal, my eyes on the prize, to which God has called us from above, in Christ Jesus.”
Though it is true that we are lovingly made new by God, clearly, we have the responsibility of sharing in this same mission. Not that we are obliged to persevere because we need to be “deserving” of what has already been given to us by God, but because it became imperative on our part to respond appropriately to divine graciousness.
All of us will always be undeserving, and none of our efforts will make us deserve his gift; we are called to do “good works” in order for his gift of newness to be made manifest for the rest of his creation.
Simply speaking, our service for the kingdom of God is a sharing of his love, exemplified by the Christ in his sense of mutual responsibility, which will hopefully bring about a reign of justice and peace for all.
Is it not true that when we are given a gift, we express our gratitude to the giver of the gift? Is it not also true that our gratitude has more meaning and gains more depth when we decide to act to use the gift and achieve its purpose? Is it not also true that when we ignore or refuse to use the gift, our expressed gratitude becomes hollow and empty, and the joy of receiving it in the first place dies out?
Hence, let us not focus on deserving the gift of newness as if the gift will be taken away from us if we are found to be undeserving. Let us not focus on receiving the gift of newness as if it should be paid back. Rather, let us focus on accepting the gift given in love, and in gratitude, to respond by sharing it in the same love. The newness that God gives is already whole and complete; nothing we do – whether out of ignorance or lack of enthusiasm or appreciation – will ever diminish it. Our wholeness, our completeness, depends only on us.
May we dutifully prepare for Lent – and for the gift of newness in Easter – through the heartfelt act of contrition of the prodigal son, “Father, I have sinned against God, and before you, I no longer deserve to be called your son. Treat me then as one of your hired servants.”
Brother Jess Matias is a professed brother of the Secular Franciscan Order. He serves as minister of the St. Pio of Pietrelcina Fraternity at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Mandaluyong City, coordinator of the Padre Pio Prayer Groups of the Capuchins in the Philippines and prison counselor and catechist for the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology.